Starting a cycling tour in Switzerland in the middle of the winter may not sound like a very good idea. Most of the passes in the alps are closed. Nevertheless I don't want to leave Switzerland by the "back door". I plan to leave it through the most beautiful corner: the Engadin.
Petrus must be a cyclist too! He spoils me, with the most beautiful weather for my start. Under perfect conditions I start cycling across snowy Switzerland: from Lucerne to the lake of Zug, over the Sattel to the lake of Zurich. On the second day, I reach Tiefencastel on the foot of the Julier pass. Here I find (I cannot believe it) an open camping. I cannot resist and put up my tent in the snow. It looks a little bit curious, next to the heated trailers.
Next morning it snows. The road is quickly covered by snow. The Julier Pass, normally a rather easy pass for cycling, is very hard. Especially the many books and map, that I carry with me, have put quite some weight on my bike. On top of the pass, the good weather is back.
The Bernina pass, the next day is easier. The steepness of the road is already perfect for a heavy touring bike. During the climb, I can see the beautiful mountains around: Piz Palu, Piz Bernina with the Biancograt, Piz Morteratsch. Memories of great mountain climbs arise. Leaving the alps now, in the middle of the ski touring season is not easy. To make it a bit easier I have something special: My ski touring friends, the Geruttis, have followed me with my skis by car. Together we want to spend some time in the Saoseo region. Although there is not a lot of snow, these are great days with beautiful ski tours, good food and funny evenings with good friends. But it is even harder now to leave...
Through the Veltlin, I find a route, just made for me: A little hilly road, passing many picturesque villages along the way. I like these high stone houses with the even higher church towers.
I am leaving the mountains. The mild clima has attracted some other cyclists for a trip. At the Lago d'Iseo it is almost kitschy: The warm light of the weak january sun covers the lake and the villages in the most beautiful colors.
Along the big cities Bréscia, Verona and Padova, the silence is over. I suffer from heavy traffic and signs, that want to lead me to the Autopista all the times. In the morning it is now often misty.
Exactly at the border to Slovenia the flat plain are over. Now I pass a hilly landscape with lots of forrest. The traffic is also finally very little again. But the climbs add up and I seem to have misjudged the way to Ljubljana. Robert, whom I only know as a visitor of my website, has invited me and comes to meet me. I almost doubt, I can make it today, when I see him sleeping along the road. Following him, we reach the town at sunset. What a welcome to Slovenia: Robert, Luka and Gogi look after me and show me around. Many thanks again for this!!
On the way back to the coast, the winter comes back: Over night it snows 20cm. On the road is quite a chaos. With the good weather back again, I pass, after a day of forced rest, through beautiful snow covered forests, until the road drops towards the coast.
Along the coastal road, I enjoy almost spring temperatures: 10°C and a lot of sunshine. The whole coast is still in a touristic hibernation: It is quite and peaceful everywhere and many restaurants and hotels are still closed. Along the rocky shore there is not much vegetation in the north, in the south I pass beautiful forests.
Only few km off the beaches, while taking a inland detour at Benkovac, I see the witnesses of the war: many ruins and rebuilding projects remind of the systematic destruction of all serbian houses in this aria. Still unbelievable, that this could happen so close to us...
Along my way, I pass some nice towns (Senj, Šibernik, Split) with beautiful old towns and narrow alleys. The culmination of this places is of course Dubrovnik. But before that, I have to cycle for 2 days through snow and rain: Yes it is still wintertime! In Dubrovnik I have a break and discover the town. Behind massiv walls, a fascinating old town is hidden with narrow alleys, beautiful places and impressive buildings, all built of white stones.
While I am in Dubrovnik, as all over europe, the winter hits the country. Even here at the coast it snows. On television I see the pictures: Loads of snow everywhere, closed roads, stuck busses. Just now, when I wanted to leave the coast, going inland. I wait in Dubrovnik until the worst is over and the forecasts are better. I start with mixed feelings: What does the road look like in the backcountry?
How much snow is there? Will I get through at all? The border crossing to Bosnia Herzegovina is spooky. Just before the border, there are mine clearance teams working. In the road there are many holes from grenades; fixed, but clearly visible. I ask the customs officer, what the roads look like. He checks my tires and says: You should be ok with these. He probably thought, that I was just going to the nearby town...
Soon I see, what the road looks like: is is cleared but not completely. I cycle on a compact pressed snow layer. This is not bad, certainly better then slush and ice. Many little climbs take the road higher. Before the first pass at 1000m I look for a place to spend the night. I dig through waist-hight snow away from the road to find a place for my tent in the woods.
"If the wind comes from the mainland, the weather will be good" I was told. In fact I have good weather. But the (head-) wind is a bit too strong. Snowdrifts are making it difficult to cycle. But worst is the cold. The air temperature of -12 would not be a problem. But the stormy winds are brutal. Even with my 3 pairs of gloves, I cannot keep my fingers warm. Doubts arise: How long will it be like that? Do I have any chance to get through at all? Finally I reach the highest point and a long descent starts. It is not warmer here. But the wind is gone.
After the border crossing to Serbia Montenegro, I cycle for one more time over a pass of almost 1000m on snowy roads. For once the weight of my bike is an advantage: only that way I am able to cycle on the snow.
The following days, the terrain get flatter and the road is free of snow. I "eat" kilometers to Niš.
During the whole time I am in Bulgaria, the temperature never reaches above freezing level. But the second morning it takes my breath away: -20. The trees covered with ice are glittering in the sun. I keep going on towards Greece in the hope of warmer weather. For me, Greece has always been the synonym for sun warmth. Of course I know, that it´s winter there too, but the hope keeps me going.
Indeed, Greece defends its reputation and I get a whole week of pure sunshine. It is also rather cold here and there is even snow sometimes. But the way along the coast through the dense olive plantatıons is beautiful.
One of the nice things about cycling to the east is, that you are cycling every morning (if the weather is good) into a sunrise. And where are the sunrises more beautiful than in den Greek Aegaen sea... Today there is even a bonus: swarms of flamingos and pelicanos accompany me in the early morning - a dream! I cycle along a big laguna where over 200 species of birds stay over the wintertime.